1 Corinthians 13


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1 Corinthians 13


A sermon by The Rev. Alex Stevenson

A preacher once heard about another preacher who gained notoriety by preaching the world’s longest sermon. He felt led to preach some kind of notable sermon too and get in the record books. But he didn’t want to bore people with a long sermon. So he decided he would peach the world’s shortest sermon and he told his congregation that he was going to do this. He didn’t want it to just be an excuse for a sermon. He had to say something meaningful in the sermon. He received a lot of good suggestions. When the time came for his notable short sermon he stood up at the pulpit cleared his throat and said, “Love,” and then sat down.

Love is important. Popular culture tells us: “Love is a many splendored thing.” (John Patrick) “All you need is love.” (The Beatles) “Love makes the world go round.” (Bob Merrill) “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” (Erich Segal)

Ancient philosophers said that everything in the world is made of four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. The movie “The Fifth Element” imagined that there was a fifth element that tied these four together and that would save the world. That fifth most important element was “Love.” Maslow, the psychological theorist, said that Love is one of the five basic needs of a human and that to be healthy and happy we need to love and be loved.

Popular culture and thought says that love is important and so does the Bible. Jesus said that the most important commandments were to love God and to love your neighbor. It also says that God is Love. It says that God loved the world and that is why HE sent Jesus to die for the World. The 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians, which is in many ways the thesis statement for the entire book, says that Love is the most essential and eternal of all God’s gifts.

“Now wait just a minute Preacher, aren’t there other important things that just might be equal to if not more important than Love? What about preaching the Gospel? It is through preaching the Gospel that people hear about Jesus and accept him and then get saved. Isn’t getting people saved the most important? And what about Prophetic powers like the prophets of the Bible. They were able to tell God’s people what to do in very troubled times. Isn’t that kind of divine guidance important? And what about faith? It’s through faith that we are saved by grace. And even the faith the size of mustard seed can move a mountain. That seems pretty potent. And what about martyrs––people who live their lives for the truth? Don’t their deaths mean anything?”

According to the Bible, no. “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”(1 Corinthians 13:3) And preaching without love is just a bunch of hooping and hollering. Faith without love is empty. Even prophetic wisdom is meaningless without love.

Love is the essential element that gives meaning to all the others. Without Love all those other things, as powerful and as important as they are lose their meaning. It is like a parent who works hard to earn a living for their children. They work overtime and weekends to gain extra points with the boss, and move up in the company and in earning ability. Then the parent provides the children with a good house and good clothes and the best in educational toys and summer camps and after school programs. But the parent never spends time with the child to help them grow emotionally and spiritually. Without the love of the parent, all those other things lose their meaning. In the same way without love, wisdom, faith, even sacrifice, become unanchored in the sea of life and lose their place. Love is the anchor, love is the key, love is the essential element to all things in life.

So we all agree that Love is essential and important. But what is love? Both the church and the world speak of love but they often seem to be speaking of different things. The world speaks of falling in love of falling out of love. The world speaks of “making love” as a mere physical act of sex. Is love simply never having to say you’re sorry or is it more?

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Perhaps the problem is that the English language lacks the vocabulary to speak of love. In Greek they have four different words for what we call “love.” One word is “eros.” This is where we get the work erotic. It literally means I love you because you have something I want. This would describe someone who made nice to the boss to get a raise or who made a friend with someone to merely gain social prestige. This is the shallowest kind of love and most often refers to sexual desires. Another word is “storge.” This is basically parental love. It is the instinctual love that parent has for a child. “Philio” is the third kind of love. It is brotherly love like the name of the city Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. It is basically love because of similarities as in a close friendship. The last one is “Agape.” This is unconditional love. It s the opposite of “eros.” “Eros” is love you for sake of the self, but “agape” is love for the sake of the other. This is self sacrificial love.

Chapter 13 is talking about the last kind of love. Paul says, “Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” This is the kind of love that the Bible says that God has for us and that Jesus calls us to have for God and our fellow human being. This unconditional self sacrificial love is why God sent the only begotten Son of God into the world and why Jesus chose to die for our sins. It wasn’t nails that held Jesus to the cross. It was his love for you that kept him there! So love is not sex, it is not romance, it is not friendship. Love, in the Biblical sense, is so much more!

But all good things must come to an end, right? No! Many good things will come to an end. There will come a time when all the prophesies will be fulfilled and then there will be no need of prophesy. There will come a time when we will not need eloquent speech and fancy turns of phrase to communicate the Gospel. We will know God face to face! At that point all the high falootin’ theology and philosophy will mean nothing. It will all seem so silly.

When I was 4 years old my grandmother Coots died. I knew that she believed in Jesus and that everyone who believes in Jesus goes to heaven. Problem was I thought heaven was up on top of the clouds like in the cartoons. One time shortly after her death my mother took a plane ride. I had heard that planes flew over the clouds so when my mother came back from her trip I questioned her to determine that she could actually look out the plane and see the tops of the clouds. When she said that she could I then wanted to know if she could see Grandma.

When we get to Heaven all our notions of what heaven is will be completely blown away. In the light of the reality of Heaven even our highest ideas of Heaven will seem as childish as my idea that Heaven was on top of the clouds. And all our ideas of God will seem just as childish too.

But after all our knowledge and wisdom have become obsolete, love will remain. Because love is the thing that is the basis and purpose for all those other good things. It is eternal. Prophesies, knowledge, eloquence will all have fulfilled their usefulness and will fall away. but the most essential thing: love will remain.

Love: The world is right in part about a few things. Love is a many splendored thing. Love is all you need. Love is truly what makes the world go round. Love is the fifth element of creation. Love is a basic need for humanity.

But the world has a few thing wrong too. Love often means saying you are sorry. Love is more, much more than a mere physical act. Love goes way beyond flowers and candlelight.

Love is eternal. Love is essential. You want to know what Love is. Look at Jesus, and especially look at his body broken and his blood shed for us. He is the eternal, unconditional self sacrificial love of God in the flesh!

Love – well, so much for short sermons!

Copyright 2008, Alex Stevenson. Used by permission.